Why do cats gag at combs – or the sound of coin running down a comb?

Why do cats gag at combs – or the sound of coin running down a comb?

Photo by Ariana Suárez on Unsplash

Have you seen this video of a cat owner running a coin over a comb and the cat next to him gagging at the sound? That video might be why you landed on this post. Sure, some cats do not like being groomed, but why this extreme reaction? To find out why cats gag at combs, stay tuned.

But first, what is gagging?

Gagging is a cat’s way of expelling anything that tickles its larynx/throat.

The cat might act like it is going to vomit, as it stretches its neck out and opens his mouth as if to spit something out. Vomiting and retching are normal in cats, but if this happens too often, you should have the cat examined by a veterinarian.

Now that we know what gagging is, here are some reasons why cats gag at combs.


1. Sensitivity to high-frequency noises

Cats have an innate sensitivity to high-frequency sounds. When humans run their fingers over a comb, it can sound similar to the dreaded nail on a chalkboard (or worse). Some cats are more sensitive than others and react after as little as 5 milliseconds, while other cats may not even notice.

This high frequency can also cause the cat’s larynx to vibrate, causing him to gag involuntarily at the unexpected sensation.

2. Feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS)

A 2016 study in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery states that a condition known as Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures (FARS) primarily affects cats between the ages of 10 and 19. These cats slowly lose their ability to hear low-pitched sounds and can only perceive high-pitched sounds or loud noises.

Symptoms of these “seizures” include:

  1. Gagging

  2. Jerking motion

  3. Foaming at the mouth while unresponsive

  4. Becoming jumpy or suddenly freezing

Once the noise stops, the seizure stops. The types of sounds that can trigger these reactions are;

  • Sound of a finger brushing over a comb

  • Crinkling of foil paper

  • Crumpled paper

  • The sound of a digital alarm clock

  • The hammering of nails

  • The rubbing together of plastic bags

  • Coffee being ground

Other reasons cats gag

Now that we know why cats gag at combs, here are other reasons why cats gag:

1. medical conditions such as inflammation or infection

These conditions can also cause a cat to gag. If you think there is a medical problem, you should visit your veterinarian to get treated.

2. Swallowing a foreign body

Cats are known to be playful and curious creatures. Unfortunately, this means they sometimes chew on or swallow things they should not, such as pieces of string or plastic. If your cat swallows a foreign object, there’s a chance it could get stuck in their airway and cause retching. So if you notice your cat exhibiting any of these symptoms, please call your veterinarian immediately.

3. Nausea

If you notice that your cat is retching and vomiting frequently, it is possible that he is nauseous. This could be a sign of illness or irritation from something in the environment, food or medication. Contact your veterinarian so he can examine your cat and determine what is wrong.

4. Hairballs

Cats groom extensively and often swallow loose hairs. These hairs can form tangles in the stomach that can cause discomfort or even block the intestines. By gagging, cats may try to expel these hairballs.

What you can do if your cat gags

1. Check the cat’s airway

If your cat is gagging, the first thing you should do is check the cat’s airway. Make sure there is nothing blocking the airway, such as a piece of string or a toy. If something is blocking the airway and is large enough to choke your cat, try removing it with your fingers or a blunt object. Keep in mind that this is only for emergencies, as putting something up your cat’s airway could cause more harm.

If it is something small and your cat is not choking, take the cat to the vet immediately.

If there is no obstruction, try the following methods.

2. Massage the throat of the cat

If your cat is gagging, you may be able to help it by massaging its throat. Gagging is often a sign that the cat is trying to clear its throat or cough up a hairball. If the cat can not clear its throat on its own, it may choke. If you see your cat gagging, you can help it clear its throat by massaging its throat muscles. This will help the muscles relax and your cat will swallow.

3. Cover his nose or blow gently into his nose

If a cat begins to gag, it is important that you help him clear his throat as quickly as possible. One way to do this is to cover his nose – this will help him swallow whatever is stuck in his throat. You can also try blowing gently into his nose to help him swallow. If your cat is still having trouble breathing, take him to the vet as soon as possible.

4. Consult a veterinarian

If you are not sure what’s causing the gagging, be sure to take your cat to the vet. Gagging can be a sign of something serious, such as a foreign object in the throat, and needs to be examined by a professional. Waiting too long can lead to more serious health complications for your pet.

It is possible that your cat gags at the sounds of combs because he is sensitive to high-frequency sounds or because he suffers from Feline Audiogenic Reflex Seizures (FARS). If your cat exhibits seizures or other abnormal behavior after hearing certain sounds, you should take him to the veterinarian for further evaluation.

Other reasons cats gag include choking, so if it happens for an extended period of time or frequently, you should see a vet immediately. To learn more about your cats, subscribe to our newsletter below.

Share this article


Sign up for our newsletter